WHAT'S in a name? The freedom from a previous incarnation, and maybe a touch of nostalgia, at least for singer-songwriter Charles Michael Kittredge Thompson IV, a.k.a. Frank Black. In 2004, his iconic indie-rock band the Pixies reunited. And last month he released a new album, "Bluefinger," under his recently re-adopted Pixies nom de rock, Black Francis.
So, what should we call him now?
"I always liked what David Bowie's called me: Francis," the guitarist says with a chuckle, speaking by phone from Vancouver, Canada, the second stop on a two-week tour ending at Safari Sam's next week.
The regenerated Black Francis conceived "Bluefinger" as a tribute to the man who metaphorically brought him back: beloved Dutch rocker and painter Herman Brood (pronounced "Broat"). Notorious partly for being upfront about indulging his appetites for drugs and sex, the late pianist's sole claim to U.S. fame is the Top 40-skimming 1979 single "Saturday Night," by Herman Brood and His Wild Romance. (Last year, popular Dutch trance DJ Armin van Buuren remixed the tune.)
"I kind of fell in love with him, with the whole tragic element," says Francis, 42. "Bluefinger" features 10 originals, all rather impressionistically concerned with Brood, and a cover of the Dutchman's delightful "You Can't Break a Heart and Have It." Brood struggled, but never managed, to get clean and, at 54, committed suicide upon learning he had only months to live. In July 2001, he leaped off the Amsterdam Hilton, a dramatic exit pondered in Francis' "Angels Come to Comfort You."
Resurrecting Black Francis, however, also indicates he can't keep the Pixies alive. He notes without rancor that co-founder and bassist Kim Deal isn't interested. "While I may have tried to convince her otherwise, maybe she's got a point," says Francis, whose recent sets have included Pixies tunes. "She doesn't need a new [Pixies] record, so maybe there doesn't need to be one."
"Bluefinger" has a ragged excitement akin to such venerated Pixies albums as "Doolittle," and it's personal yet not confessional, by turns comic and poignant. The nakedly lustful "Your Mouth Into Mine" and playfully deviant "Tight Black Rubber" display an unabashed sexuality that reflects Brood but is also an element of Francis' work. However, the occasional speed and junk references are all derived from Brood.
Francis isn't endorsing drug use, and neither did the Dutchman, at least for other people. "A lot of his songs are cautionary tales: explicit, but not pro-drugs," Francis says. This contradiction made Brood more compelling. "He's like, 'Yeah, this sucks . . . and I love it.' " He laughs.
Obsessing over the libertine was perhaps a way to indulge debauchery without risk for this working family man, traveling the West Coast with wife Violet Clark (a band member alongside bassist Dan Schmid and drummer Jason Carter) in the clan's minivan, with two of their four young children (and another on the way).
But also, perhaps not surprisingly for an artist who's a revered modern-rock influence and a persistent cult figure, he was drawn to Brood's rock-outsider status.
"He was always gonna be a second-class citizen in the world of rock," Francis says. "It doesn't matter that you love Little Richard; you're some guy from Holland."
Watching old videos on YouTube, he says, might make one conclude Brood was "kinda cheesy." But the musician's sincerity is palpable, and "his lyrics are really good, honest and real."
"You Can't Break a Heart" clinched it for Francis. And Brood's story transported him. "I remember driving down the road and crying and stuff," while writing the songs. He laughs. "It was ridiculous. I'm [usually] a little more cynical."
Stranger still, when visiting Amsterdam upon finishing "Bluefinger," Francis heard from Brood's former manager that the artist was a Pixies fan. The proof was in Brood's dusty studio, a stopped-time shrine straight out of Charles Dickens.
"Right there, with the paint drips everywhere, next to his old piano, is this huge stack of tapes and CDs," he says. "And there's one of my records!" He pauses. "It was all the spookier. Like there's someone from beyond the veil going, 'Hey, I'm not done. I mean, I'm outta here, I'm dead.' " He laughs. " 'But I got a little job for ya . . . .' "
Where: Safari Sam's, 5214 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
When: 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Info: (323) 666-7267; www.safari-sams.com